It’s never a straightforward process trying to work out what you’re going to get from a new manager. It’s a lot easier when you have the help of a fan who knows them pretty well. We were lucky enough to get the kind help of Ollie Wright from @DerbyCountyBlog who gave us an in-depth view on Paul Clement’s Championship experience at Pride Park.
You can find Ollie’s blog right here.
How well did he do at Derby County?
Paul Clement took over from Steve McClaren in the summer of 2015 and despite the rotten luck of losing Will Hughes and Craig Bryson to serious injuries in his first game, piloted the Rams to second in the league by Christmas. However, his side then stumbled through January and dropped into the play-off places.
Around this time, Clement’s relationship with the owner Mel Morris apparently completely deteriorated and when Morris infamously “entered the dressing room” to deliver a bollocking to all and sundry after a home draw with Reading, the writing was on the wall.
I’ve no idea what happened behind the scenes, but purely based on results, Clement was dismissed with unseemly haste and deserved more time, in what was his first managerial role. I think when a sacking is met with a wave of bizarre rumours spreading around the town, this tells you that the decision made no obvious sense and so people were left to come up with their own explanations.
How would you describe his style as a manager?
His persona is of an urbane, sophisticated and quite European ‘football brain’. You can expect a short passing, patient, build-from-the-back type of game from Clement. Some Derby fans didn’t enjoy his brand of football, which they felt was too slow, deliberate and painstakingly planned out, lacking tempo, spontaneity and flair. This perceived lack of passion counted against the Rams in the games that mattered most to fans, as Derby lost at home to Leeds United and were unacceptably meek in a 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest.
Morris’ unscheduled team talk came after a Matej Vydra-inspired Royals side had played Derby off the pitch at Pride Park, a performance which was so disjointed partly because Clement had deviated from his usual 4-3-3 system to play 4-2-3-1, accommodating his new signing from Reading, Nick Blackman, who had been brought in to add pace to an attack spearheaded by Chris Martin.
What are his main strengths and weaknesses as a manager?
His CV is long on coaching experience at the very highest level of club football and that is what got him the Derby gig. His dismissal from Pride Park led to his mentor Carlo Ancelotti telling media that the Rams were destined to remain a “small club” and Ancelotti tried to help Clement out at Swansea by loaning them Renato Sanches. So certainly, his contact book and technical expertise are beyond reproach.
Where he fell down at Derby was probably in his lack of experience of playing the political game. He made his name as a ‘number two’ and the Derby job, which was fraught with danger at the time and arguably still is, came too early in his career. Gary Rowett has basically delivered the same results as Clement in his first full season, but instead of incurring Big Mel’s wrath, the Brummie sits alongside the owner at Fans Forum events, cheekily wisecracking and tweaking his tail about his record of sacking a manager every six months or so. Clement clearly didn’t grasp the fundamental necessity of keeping the boss onside.
There are also question marks over his ability to recruit. At the end of the August window, Derby overpaid ruinously for Jacob Butterfield and Bradley Johnson, while signings made in the January window - particularly Blackman and Abdoul Camara - turned out to be embarrassing and costly flops. Exactly how much blame for these failures was on Clement and how much was on other figures at the club remains unclear, but he has to take at least part of the responsibility.
Will he be a success at Reading?
Replacing Jaap Stam with Clement says that Reading want to continue to play football “the right way” and so any fans who were fed up of Stam on grounds of the Dutchman’s stubborn adherence to the possession game will not be overly enthralled.
Clement remains unproven as a manager, but I think he deserves an opportunity to show that he can do the job at this level. Clearly, he will need more time than he was afforded at Derby if he is to get Reading back where they want to be. And if he would like to take Blackman back to the Madejski, I’m confident that it could be arranged...